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Thursday, 16 May 2002
Page: 2412

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (11:32 AM) —I think it is a matter of substantial concern that the honourable member for Kennedy, in a serial way, puts his name on the speaking list. My understanding is that on three occasions in the last two days he has inconvenienced both the Committee and the main chamber by putting his name down to speak and not advising the whips of his intention not to. So, since the Chief Opposition Whip is responsible for the honourable member for Kennedy—if anyone is—it might facilitate the proceedings of this place and the main chamber if the Chief Opposition Whip were to give the honourable member for Kennedy a very stern talking to with a view that he might in future reform his behaviour and turn up or, alternatively, maybe not put his name down on the speaking list.

On behalf of the government I want to thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the Disability Discrimination Amendment Bill 2002 and for their support. As has been indicated, this is a very important item of legislation, it is very progressive legislation and I know the Attorney-General is very proud of this legislation which will achieve very positive outcomes for our community.

Changes announced in the budget this week will see significantly more support and greater opportunities for people with disabilities to help them participate in work and in the community. The government wants to provide every opportunity to people with disabilities to find and keep a job. To do this, the government will be providing help through the provision of extra rehabilitation, training, education and employment services. These reforms will be supported by the introduction of the disability standards for accessible public transport. This bill is an important precursor to the formulation of disability standards for accessible public transportation services and facilities. At present while the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has the power to grant temporary exemptions from the operation of provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act, it does not have the power to grant temporary exemptions from disability standards.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you will be interested to know that these amendments will allow the commission to grant temporary exemptions from disability standards dealing with public transport services and facilities. The ability to grant appropriate up-front exemptions from these disability standards is an essential element in providing greater certainty to persons who will be affected by them. Importantly, the commission will be required to consult the National Transport Secretariat before granting such exemptions and may consult any other body or person it considers appropriate.

Together with the amendments in this bill, the standards will provide certainty about compliance requirements for public transport service operators in a way that does not impose undue burdens upon them. The standards will greatly assist in breaking down social and economic barriers currently faced by people with a disability or mobility problem. The standards will also benefit other members of the community, particularly older Australians and parents with infants in pushers or prams, who need to or want to use public transport. The standards will help to promote increased recognition and acceptance that people with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as the rest of the community. They are a concrete demonstration of this government's strong commitment to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities and to improving their lives in both a fundamental and a practical way. I know government members are very proud of this government's commitment and, what is more, the way that we are implementing this commitment through legislation.

My good friend the honourable member for Barton spoke in this debate. He criticised the time taken to prepare and introduce the disability standards for accessible public transport and the time frames for implementation of various parts of the standards. I want to place the facts on the public record and to reassure the honourable member for Barton. My colleague the Attorney-General acknowledges and understands the concerns expressed about the period of development of the disability standards for accessible public transport. At the same time it is important to recognise—and I think most reasonable people would appreciate this—that, in view of their groundbreaking nature, when the standards are formulated and tabled they will be the first disability standards to be implemented under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Draft standards were developed over a number of years by a task force reporting to the Australian Transport Council. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into these standards. Following agreement on policy content, it has been necessary to consider the text of the draft standards to ensure legal certainty and effectiveness. If this did not occur, that would clearly not be a desirable outcome. Some drafting changes have been required for this purpose. The revised final draft standards were made available for public information in September last year and can be accessed on the web site of the Attorney-General's Department.

An amendment bill was introduced in September last year but lapsed when the parliament was prorogued prior to the election. The amendments were reintroduced in the first sitting week of the new parliament, demonstrating the commitment of the government to finalising the standards.

I understand that, at times, there have been queries as to how the compliance timetable will work. The compliance timetable for the disability standards for accessible public transport balances the legitimate needs of people with disabilities with the cost to operators and providers of refurbishing or replacing conveyances, premises or infrastructure. The compliance timetable ensures that accessibility is provided in a way that does not create an undue burden for operators and providers. It was developed by the accessible transport task force established by the Australian Transport Council and varied, as recommended, by the regulation impact statement. Public transport is primarily expected to become accessible by the replacement or upgrading of conveyances, premises and infrastructure at the end of their service lives. All new items must comply with the standards so that non-conforming items are gradually retired or upgraded.

The compliance target dates and percentages take into account the service lives of conveyances in order to maximise compliance while minimising cost. For example, 90 per cent compliance for trains and trams is required by the end of 15 years after the standards take effect but, due to the life expectancy of trams and trains, 100 per cent is required by the end of 30 years after the standards take effect. I think that is quite reasonable.

The timetable allows for incremental compliance with the relevant standards over 30 years with milestones at the fifth, 10th, 15th, 20th and 30th years. For example, 10 years after the standards come into force operators and providers must ensure full compliance with the relevant standards in relation to surfaces, hand rails, grab rails, gateways and vending machines as well as conveyances, premises and infrastructure. By the 12th year all public transport services as they apply to conveyances, premises and infrastructure except for trains and trams must fully comply with the relevant standards. The operator or provider may be granted an exemption by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in relation to compliance with part or all of the relevant standards as appropriate.

In contrast to the comments made by the honourable member for Barton, the compliance timetable does allow for an appropriate balance to ensure accessibility. I hope that the member does indeed read the parliamentary Hansard to get the explanation for the matters that he has raised. I would also like to endorse the comments made by the honourable member for Batman. It is not a course of action I am often motivated to follow. But I do want to endorse comments made by him and other members opposite in congratulating the relevant stakeholders from both the disability community and the transport sector for their cooperative approach and willingness to work together to achieve a workable, effective outcome for all in developing these standards. As I said at the outset, I thank honourable members for their support and I am very pleased to commend this bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.